As far as post-apocalyptic zombie movies go, Endzeit: Ever After certainly stands out. Enjoying its world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, this German-language arthouse film from director Carolina Hellsgård offers up an a quiet somber depiction of life after the collapse of civilization, and how far two women will go to find their own version of peace.
After a plague wipes through the world only the cities of Weimar and Jura survive. It’s in Weimar that we meet ViVi (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) living nervously in a walled-off compound with other survivors. Despite living for two years in-doors, she’s reluctantly chosen to help fix the perimeter with nailing boards to a ramshackle fence. During an attack on the compound, ViVi meets Eva (Maja Lehrer) and the two escape aboard an autonomous supply train bound for the city of Jura. What follows is a series of adventures that border on the surreal, Eva and Vivi trekking through the German countryside, looking for safety.
Endzeit very much falls into the arthouse/avante garde category in all the beautiful but frustrating ways in which these films are critiqued. The dialogue between the two women is sparse, their body language conveying more than their voices ever could. But both Kohlhof and Lehrer are perfect in their roles. Vivi is shy and fragile, Eva confident and abrasive. They don’t trust each other at first for their own reasons the audiences comes to learn about. But as it common with survival films of this type, the duo come to rely on each other—their friendship growing as the film moves through its tight ninety minute run time.
The frustrating aspect of the film comes in the contextual, philosophical nature of it’s message. There’s various interwoven imagery that definitely makes sense and isn’t that hard to interpret, but at the same time, the ending feels confusing and open-ended. Normally I’m all for ambiguity and the interpretive nature of film, but there’s a lack of build-up to a set of specific actions that left me wanting more clarity.
What I did love about the existential nature of Endzeit is the idea they come back to again and again, that the collapse of civilization (in this specific situation) shouldn’t be the end of humanity. The film manages to generate messages of hope and compassion in the midst of an outbreak of flesh eating zombie hoards. Hellsgård’s confidence in telling this story through great camera work—often exploring the absence of zombie tropes—was reassuring. This surety behind the camera makes sense since it’s her second feature film and sixth film overall, every one of which she’s edited herself.
What’s even more great about Endzeit from a technical perspective is that it features women in every major creative role, from writer Olivia Vieweg to the cinematographer Leah Striker. The visuals are gorgeous, stark greens of blue, green and orange fill the screen as Vivi and Leah move from sun-setting fields to ominous forests with creeks running through them.
Endzeit is the perfect film to subvert whatever zombie horror expectations you might have. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the crackling pace, but also the characters who are smart, funny and visceral.
By Devin Jones